Legislative Scrutiny: Child Poverty Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the National Children's Bureau


  NCB welcomes the introduction of legislation that provides the framework for government, both local and national, to work towards the eradication of child poverty in the UK by 2020. We also support the Bill's overall compatibility with human rights obligations, in particular the child's right to an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, we have a number of concerns about the Bill's alignment with human rights principles.


  We would question whether the Bill's definition of the eradication of child poverty is fully in accordance with the Articles cited above. Clause 2 (the relative low income target) defines eradication as less than 10% of children living in poverty. (i) Even if this ambitious target is achieved, it could still leave one in 10 children in poverty, seriously undermining their right to a standard of living adequate for their physical and social development. The government upholds that a zero target is not achievable in practice. Therefore, NCB and its ECP partners are calling for the target threshold to be no higher than 5% as this is the lowest that has been achieved in Europe. (ii)


  NCB and its ECP partners also have concerns around the intended consequences of clause 15, that requires economic and fiscal circumstances to be taken into account when preparing the strategy. There is a risk that unfavourable economic and fiscal circumstances could be used as a legally acceptable justification for not meeting the targets by 2020, and that the fiscal benefits of tackling child poverty will not sufficiently be taken into account. Article 27 of the UNCRC asserts that all children have the right to an adequate standard of living and this is not tempered by considerations of the impact this could have on the economy. This right should be realised regardless of economic and fiscal circumstances.


  The Households Below Average Income (HBAI) survey, from which child poverty data is taken, defines "child" as a person under the age of 16, or a 16-19 year-old who is unmarried, living with parents and in full-time non-advanced education or unwaged government training. (iii) So, in addition to Gypsy and Roma children and asylum seeking children, the measure of child poverty could exclude looked after children in residential childcare, care leavers in supported housing, and 16-17 year-olds living away from their parents or those not in education, employment or training. These particularly vulnerable groups must be included in the data collection to ensure that the target is a comprehensive mechanism for realising the right of all children to have an adequate standard of living.


  Like the HBAI, clause 25 defines "child" as a person under the age of 16 or qualifying for child benefit. This could exclude 16-17 year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) or those living apart from their families from benefiting from provisions in the Bill to measure and tackle child poverty. This contravenes Article 1 of the UNCRC that defines a child as "every human being below the age of 18 years", and thereby also disregards Article 27. This omission is of particular concern as these 16-17 year-olds may be at a higher risk of experiencing financial hardship as they are only eligible for limited benefits and have a lower national minimum wage. (iv) To ensure compatibility with human rights obligations, the definition of "child" in the Bill must be extended to include all 16-17 year olds.


  The Bill does not include any requirement for specific approaches in the UK strategies to target groups vulnerable to living in poverty. This is vital for ensuring these children and young people do not fall into the "acceptable" 10% still living in poverty in 2020. For example, families with disabled children are at greater risk of living in poverty than the average household (26% risk, compared to 20% in 2007-08). (v) Article 23 of the UNCRC states that every disabled child "should enjoy a full and decent life". Looked after children are similarly vulnerable to living in low income households, with 75% of UK foster carers earning less than the minimum wage from fostering, and 88% not working full-time outside the home. (vi) Under Article 20 of the UNCRC, children who are temporarily or permanently deprived of the "family environment" are entitled to special protection and assistance from the state. For all children to have the right to an adequate standard of living, and to ensure compliance with Articles 23 and 20, additional support and resources have to be directed at the most vulnerable.


  NCB welcomes the inclusion in the Bill of provisions requiring consultation with children and young people in the development of the UK and local strategies (clauses 9(4), 12(3), 22(6)). However, the omission of consultation with parents and carers is a concern. Article 27 of the UNCRC states that parents (or others carers) are primarily responsible for securing "the conditions of living necessary for the child's development". It also requires States Parties to take appropriate measures to assist parents to secure an adequate standard of living for their child. It is therefore vital that parents and carers are given a voice to identify the support, resources and services they consider most important in aiding them to fulfil these responsibilities.


  NCB is concerned that the "building blocks" (Clause 8 (5)) that will inform the development of the UK strategy do not take account of some significant services that would help to tackle and mitigate the effects of child poverty.

    — Poverty has a significant impact on children and young people's opportunities for play and recreation, as 24% of children in the poorest fifth of households (compared to 4% in the richest fifth) do not have outdoor space or facilities to play. (vii) The government's strategy for positive activities (viii) recognised the beneficial impact of positive recreational pursuits on young people's resilience and outcomes. Article 31 of the UNCRC affords children the right to engage in play and recreational activities and says that States Parties should encourage the provision of opportunities for these leisure activities.

    — The delivery of integrated early childhood services can have a range of positive impacts on disadvantaged families. For example, the evaluation of Sure Start Local Programmes (now Sure Start Children's Centres) has shown a number of improvements including positive parenting and better social development among young children. (ix) Under Article 18 of the UNCRC, States Parties are expected to secure institutions, facilities and services for the care of children. Although the provision of affordable childcare may be considered under clause 8(5)(a) ("promotion and facilitation of the employment of parents"), there needs to be further provision in the Bill for considering a wider range of early childhood services.

    — The barriers to using public transport that all children and young people face can be accentuated for those living in poverty, and this lack of independent mobility can in turn reinforce their social exclusion. (x) Travel and transport provision facilitates access to a range of services, including education, health care, advice and information and cultural and recreational activities, services to which children are entitled under the UNCRC (Articles 24, 28, 17 and 31). Thus, transport measures should be considered to ensure a coherent, integrated and effective strategy.


 (i)  Children living in households with incomes below 60% of the national median income, before housing costs, Clause 2.

 (ii)  Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, UNICEF (2007) Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries http://www.unicef.org/media/files/ChildPovertyReport.pdf

 (iii)  DWP (2009) Households Below Average Income An analysis of the income distribution 1994-95 to 2007-08.

 (iv)  £3.53 per hour for workers aged 16-17, compared to £4.77 for 18-21s and £5.73 for persons aged 22 and over.

 (v)  Department for Work and Pensions (2009), Households Below Average Income Survey 1994-95 to 2007-08.

 (vi)   Swain V (2007) Can't Afford to Foster: a survey of fee payments to foster carers in the UK The Fostering Network.

 (vii)  Department for Work and Pensions (2009), Households Below Average Income Survey 1994-95 to 2007-08.

 (viii)  HM Government (2007) Aiming high for young people: a 10 year strategy for positive activities.

 (ix)  The National Evaluation of Sure Start Research Team (2008) The Impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on Three Year Olds and Their Families.

 (x)  Social Exclusion Unit (2003) Making the Connections: Final report on transport and social exclusion.

September 2009

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